Until about three weeks ago, 45-year-old Usha Devi’s daily routine included chasing away local youths who would harass schoolgirls passing by her tea shop in the mornings and afternoons.
Now, merely a neon ‘logo’ stamped on the wall of her tiny shop does the job. The boys have vanished and girls know where to knock when they need help.
As part of an initiative by NGO Plan India, Devi’s shop is among the 100 houses and shops in five blocks of Outer Delhi’s Mangolpuri, which have been demarcated as ‘safe houses’ for women feeling threatened at any time of the day or night. All the women have to do is to knock on the door of a house or shop with the ‘Surakshit Shehar’ (safe city) neon logo.
The residents of each of these selected houses have been trained on how to respond when a woman knocks on their door for help. “We first ensure that the victim is secured from the harassers before we attract the attention of like-minded people from the neighbourhood. One of us is supposed to dial the police number in the meantime. But, we have been advised not to engage with the people posing threat to the victims,” says Rachna, resident of a ‘safe house’.
The priority was to select houses located near public parks — generally preferred as a gathering spot by local hooligans — and at the corners of the streets so that victims can easily access them.
Sixteen-year-old Kanchan (name changed) who claims to be regularly harassed by boys on her way to school says, “The eve-teasers have stopped loitering around parks and streets which have ‘safe houses’ nearby. Everyone in our locality knows about this concept and are aware that the residents of the ‘safe houses’ will call the police at the first sign of any harassment,” says Kanchan.
Every member of the selected houses has been roped in for the initiative so that there is someone at home at almost all times. The aim is to ensure that a distressed woman is sure of being let into a safe house when she is in need of help. “In the future, we plan to replace the current logos with luminescent colour logos for better visibility during the night,” says Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Plan India.
To make sure that the ‘safe houses’ in Mangolpuri have reliable residents with clean records, Plan India has tied up with AV Baliga Memorial Trust, an NGO that has a strong presence in this low-income area. “We have been working in Mangolpuri for the last 35 years and know the locals very well. For now, we have selected only those houses, which are occupied by our own staff or by people we can vouch for,” says Jyoti Kandari who works for the local NGO and is the coordinator of the project in the area.
For implementing the project in South Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, which also has 100 ‘safe houses’, Plan India has tied up with another NGO working at the local level there. “Mangolpuri and Madanpur Khadar were selected because of the high rate of crime against women there. The success of this pilot project will decide whether or not we take this initiative to other vulnerable areas in Delhi,” says the Plan India official.
The initiative has found the backing of the local police, which have already been working with these NGOs for long. Calling it an excellent initiative, Vikramjit Singh, DCP (Outer), says the police have been coordinating with the organisers of the project to ensure its success.
“Since the residents of these safe houses will eventually contact the police, we have ensured that there is good liaison between the residents and the beat constables in these areas,” says Singh. The phone numbers of the beat constables have been shared with the residents of the designated houses and vice-versa for better communication.
The priority was to select houses located near public parks and at the corners of the streets so that victims can easily access them